Formed by three Austrian immigrants and one youthful Londoner, the Amadeus Quartet came to prominence in postwar England. It excelled in the Classical repertoire, and its recordings in the 1950s were important contributions to the growing body of chamber music on the newly introduced LP. The process of recording on tape was a major improvement over the start-and-stop 78 rpm methods, and these clean and skillfully edited masters hold up quite well in the digital transfer. This seven-disc set follows Deutsche Grammophon's 2003 reissue of the quartet's early Mozart recordings, and covers works by Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, thus giving a fuller representation of the group's prodigious output for Westminster and DG.
These early performances by the greatest string quartet of the 20th century are absolutely gorgeous. They may not be quite as virtuosic as the Amadeus' later stero recordings of Mozart's quartets and quintets, but they are more mellow and lyrical. Combining expert musicianship, technical mastery, gorgeous sound, vivacity, and unbelievably tight ensemble playing, the Amadeus Quartet brings out the beauty of every melodic line of Mozart's ingenious compositions and does justice to each note and ornament.
The untimely death of Peter Schidlof on 15 August 1987 resulted not only in the loss of a great violist: it also marked the end of an era in which, for almost 40 years, the Amadeus Quartet was one of the leading chamber music ensembles in the world. Together in the same formation for a longer time than any other string quartet, the four Amadeus members - Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel, Peter Schidlof and Martin Lovett - were close both as musical colleagues and as friends in private life; and this artistic "marriage", born out of a special fate which brought the Amadeus together after the War, could not survive the loss of one of its partners. They had always agreed that if any member could no longer play, for whatever reason, the Quartet would not continue; and the cellist Martin Lovett expressed what his colleagues clearly fell when he said, "Peter is simply irreplaceable". Indeed, it would be impossible for anyone to take his place without completely changing the sound and character of the ensemble. The quality of their playing was marked by a unique sonority and homogeneity, which derived from a common "schooling" with the great violinist and teacher Max Postal. It had a flexibility that could shape a phrase for its full expressive, emotional effect: yet the members of the quartet each projected very individual and contrasting musical personalities.
Richter and the members of the Borodin quartet, joined by veteran Georg Hörtnagel, recorded this "Trout" live in 1980, and EMI has now reissued it on their Redline budget series with Richter's classic "Wanderer Fantasie" from 1963 as a filler.
The Hartmann, completed in 1933, shows the influence of Berg's Lyric Suite as well as Bartók's 1928 quartet, with which it shares this outstanding disc. Hartmann went into "inner exile" after the Nazi takeover, refusing to allow his work to be published or performed in Germany. Performed abroad, the quartet won a Swiss prize in 1936. It's a powerful work, with a dark, tragic opening that gives way to furious outbursts and energetic declamations. Making an immediate impact, it should not be missed, especially in the Zehetmair Quartet's spontaneous, tingling performance